How do you craft beginnings, middles and endings? Writing is a powerful tool that lets us take readers to new worlds, feel all the emotions, and make memories that stick. A good story needs a killer start, a gripping middle, and a satisfying ending.
This blog post is all about the importance of each story phase and how to make them captivating so your readers won’t be able to stop reading.
In fiction writing, beginnings, middles, and endings refer to the three main sections or phases of a story.
The beginning of a story sets the stage and introduces readers to the narrative. The purpose of the beginning is to engage readers, establish the story’s context, and create a foundation for the events to come.
The middle section of a story comprises the bulk of the narrative and develops the plot, characters, and conflicts.
The ending of a story brings resolution to the conflicts and provides a sense of closure.
These three parts flow together to create a captivating narrative. The start grabs readers, the middle fleshes out the story and characters, and the end wraps it up nicely. The lengths and proportions of these sections can change depending on the story.
Types of Beginnings, Middles and Endings
Change up your storytelling game by using varied beginnings, middles, and endings. Check out these common types:
Beginnings can start the several ways.
Start the story with an exciting or suspenseful scene to engage readers and get them invested right off the bat. The following books that have action-packed beginnings:
♦ In the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the story starts with the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, volunteering as a tribute in the brutal Hunger Games, a fight to the death televised event, where she must use her skills to survive.
♦ The novel the Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum opens with the main character, Jason Bourne, found unconscious and adrift at sea. As he wakes up, he quickly discovers he has no memory of who he is or why he’s being pursued by assassins.
♦ The book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card begins with a young boy named Ender Wiggin in a zero-gravity battle school, where he is tested and trained to become a military genius to fight against an impending alien invasion.
These books grab the readers’ attention from the beginning with gripping and action-packed scenarios that set the tone for the thrilling adventures that follow.
In media res
Begin the story in the middle of the action or a critical moment, then backtrack to provide context. Books that start in media res include:
♦ Odysseus’ journey in Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, commences with him being held captive by the nymph Calypso on the island of Ogygia. The story later delves into the events that led to his current predicament.
♦ When Moby-Dick by Herman Melville begins with “Call me Ishmael,” you’re immediately in the thick of things. Ishmael jumps on board the whaling ship Pequod, which is already on the hunt for the great white whale.
♦ Beloved by Toni Morrison begins with a ghostly figure (Beloved) who haunts Sethe’s family, a former slave. The story takes us through the events that happened before Beloved arrived.
These books draw readers in with exciting openings.
Open with an interesting conversation that captures the reader’s attention. Some books that start with a dialogue-driven beginnings include:
♦ Pride and Prejudice (by Jane Austen) begins with Mr. And Mrs. Bennet talking about a new wealthy bachelor in town. That’s when all the matchmaking and social drama begins.
♦ The novel, To Kill a Mockingbird (by Harper Lee), begins with a conversation between siblings Scout and Jem. Through their dialogue, the reader gets a glimpse into their world and the curiosity that drives the plot.
♦ The Sun Also Rises (by Ernest Hemingway) kicks off with Jake Barnes and his buddies talking about their friend, Robert Cohn. This talk is the starting point for discussing disillusionment and the Lost Generation in the novel.
Related Reading: How to Create Memorable Dialogue
Paint a vivid picture of the setting or introduce a captivating character to set the tone and atmosphere.
♦ The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien starts off by talking about Bilbo Baggins’ cozy hobbit hole, Bag End. It’s got a round door, a stocked pantry, and really comfy furniture that makes you feel like you’re right there.
♦ In 1984 by George Orwell, the book opens with a depressing look at a world under the thumb of the Party, where Big Brother is always watching, giving you a taste of what’s to come with all the surveillance and control.
♦ Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude kicks off with a beautiful and imaginative depiction of the fake town of Macondo, its surroundings, climate, and the oddball Buendía family, painting a lively and detailed scene.
These books captivate readers from the start with vivid and evocative descriptions, creating a strong sense of atmosphere, character, and setting that immerses readers in the world of the story.
Related Reading: The Art of Description: Techniques for Bringing Your Writing to Life
Flashback or prologue
Start with a scene from the past or provide a brief glimpse into a crucial event to create intrigue. Here are some examples:
♦ The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini starts with a prologue that takes you back to Kabul in the 70s. It’s where Amir, the main character, reflects on a big event from his childhood that sets the story in motion.
♦ The prologue in The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien tells of the ‘One Ring’ and its history, leading into the epic quest.
♦ A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin starts with a prologue that takes us beyond the Wall. There, we get a sneak peek at the White Walkers and what’s coming for the Seven Kingdoms.
In these books, the use of flashbacks or prologues allows the authors to provide crucial background information, establish context, or introduce important events or themes that shape the narrative. They often add depth and intrigue, setting the stage for the main story to come.
You can craft middles, several ways.
Introduce obstacles, challenges, and complications that escalate the central conflict and keep readers invested.
♦ Divergent by Veronica Roth features a messed up world that’s split into different fractions. The main character, Tris Prior, finds out she doesn’t really belong in any of them. The rising conflict emerges as Tris uncovers the dark secrets of her society and becomes involved in a rebellion against the oppressive regime.
♦ The Maze Runner by James Dashner follows a group of young boys trapped in a mysterious maze with no memory of their past. As they try to unravel the secrets of the maze and find a way out, the rising conflict intensifies with the introduction of deadly creatures, shifting alliances, and mounting tension among the group.
♦ Rachel Watson, the main character in The Girl on the Train (by Paula Hawkins) is a heavy drinker who gets involved in a missing person case. Rachel keeps forgetting stuff and it’s causing all kinds of problems ‘cause she’s super determined to uncover the truth – no matter what.
In these books, the rising conflict keeps readers engaged and invested in the story. It heightens tension, creates obstacles for the characters to overcome, and drives the narrative forward toward its climax.
Related Reading: Creating Conflict: Understanding the Basics
Introduce secondary storylines or conflicts to add depth and complexity to the narrative.
♦ In the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas Edmond Dantès plots his revenge. But there’s more to the story, like Maximilien Morrel and Valentine de Villefort’s love story and all the political madness in France at the time.
♦ The novel, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, revolves around the life of Theodore Decker. There are a bunch of different things happening like his relationships with other characters, his involvement in the art world, and his own struggle with guilt and figuring out who he really is. The subplots add more depth to the story.
♦ Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is the epic tale of Scarlett O’Hara and her pursuit of love and survival during the American Civil War. There are numerous subplots, including the relationships between other characters, the dynamics of Southern society, and the impact of historical events on their lives.
You get more out of these books because of the subplots that add layers to the storytelling, character development, and themes.
To really engage readers, focus on the character’s growth, struggles, and relationships. Check out these books noted for their character development.
♦ The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is about a shepherd boy named Santiago who goes on a journey to find himself. Santiago changes a lot on the inside as he interacts with different people and follows his dreams.
♦ The Book Thief by Markus Zusak explores the life of Liesel Meminger, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany. Liesel’s character changes a lot in the book because of what she goes through. She learns about loss, empathy, and the power of words from her experiences, relationships, and love for books.
♦ Set in the 60, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is about a 14-year-old girl named Lily Owens, who’s trying to find her place in the world and discover her past. On her journey, she deals with racism, finds the strength of sisterhood, and grows as a person.
The characters in these books transform a lot, and as you read, you get to see how they discover themselves.
Related Reading: Character Development Tips that Every Writer Needs
Twists and surprises
Include unexpected turns of events, revelations, or plot twists to maintain suspense and captivate the reader. Some great examples include:
♦ In And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, someone invites ten strangers to an isolated island and then mysteriously murders them one by one. The novel is renowned for its clever plot twists and an ending that leaves readers stunned and questioning everything they thought they knew.
♦ The movie The Sixth Sense by M. Night Shyamalan is all about a kid who can see ghosts. Its shocking ending alters the audience’s perception of the story.
♦ The book Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane is about a Marshal who’s looking for a missing patient in a mental institution on an isolated island. The main character goes deeper and finds some unexpected stuff that completely changes what he thinks is going on.
You won’t be able to put these books down because of the insane plot twists, unexpected reveals, and mind-blowing endings that’ll leave you shook.
Gradually increase the stakes and tension to keep the story interesting and propel the reader forward. To learn more, check out these great examples:
1. The psychological thriller The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides follows the story of Alicia Berenson. A renowned painter who has been convicted of murder and has remained silent ever since. As the therapist treating her tries to unravel the truth, the tension escalates, keeping readers on the edge of their seats.
2. The horror novel, The Shining, by Stephen King takes place in an isolated hotel where a family stays during the winter. As the protagonist, Jack Torrance, descends into madness, the tension builds with supernatural occurrences, psychological terror, and a gripping battle for survival.
3. The dark and atmospheric thriller Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn revolves around a journalist, Camille Preaker, who returns to her hometown to investigate the murders of two young girls. As Camille delves deeper into the disturbing secrets of her past and the town, the tension intensifies, leading to a shocking climax.
These books are really good at building suspense with their atmospheric settings, complicated characters, and intense storylines. They keep you hooked and always wanting more, and leave you feeling uneasy for a while.
You can craft ending in several ways.
Resolution and closure
Provide a satisfying conclusion to the main conflict and tie up loose ends to give readers a sense of resolution.
1. The Giver by Lois Lowry follows Jonas, a young boy living in a utopian society. As Jonas discovers the truth behind his community and takes action to bring about change. The story reaches a satisfying resolution that offers closure and a glimpse of hope for the future.
2. The narrative in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon centers around Christopher Boone. A fifteen-year-old with autism who investigates the murder of his neighbor’s dog. As Christopher uncovers secrets and faces personal challenges, the story concludes with a resolution that brings closure to the mysteries explored.
3. The story The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro follows Stevens, a butler reflecting on his life and the choices he made in service. Through introspection and a final act of self-realization, the book concludes with a bittersweet resolution that provides closure to Stevens’ character arc.
Open-ended or ambiguous ending
Leave some aspects of the story open to interpretation or allow room for readers to speculate and ponder. Some great examples include:
1. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale has an open ending that invites readers to contemplate the possibilities and draw their own conclusions. Readers are uncertain about the protagonist’s fate and the future of the dystopian society she lives in.
2. Although not a book, Inception by Christopher Nolan explores the concept of dreams within dreams and ends with a deliberate open ending. This leaves audiences questioning the reality and interpretation of the ending scene.
3. Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, tells interconnected stories spanning different time periods and genres. The story wraps up, making readers ponder interconnectedness and life’s cycle.
Craft an ending that evokes strong emotions, whether it’s joy, sadness, surprise, or contemplation. like the following:
1. The ending of Atonement (by Ian McEwan) is so powerful and emotional that it challenges our ideas of truth, memory, and actions. The ending hits you hard and stays with you even after finishing the book.
2. The Fault in Our Stars (by John Greene) is about two teens with cancer who fall in love. The ending is pretty sad and hits you hard, with themes about love, loss, and how life is fragile.
3. The Color Purple (by Alice Walker) is a really powerful novel that tackles racism, sexism, and abuse. The story is about an African-American woman named Celie in the early 1900s. The ending hits hard because the main character goes through a lot (finding themselves, feeling powerful, and finding love and acceptance).
These books explore love, loss, resilience, and the human spirit, leaving readers with an emotional resonance. Readers bond with the characters deeply, feeling powerful emotions and still thinking about the book long after they finish it
Echo elements or themes from the beginning of the story to create a sense of closure and completion like these examples:
1. Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi tells the story of Pi Patel, a young Indian boy who finds himself stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. The story ends with a thought-provoking conclusion.
2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald explores the themes of wealth, love, and the American Dream. The ending closes the tragic story, showing life’s cycle and the characters’ disappointment.
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of the Buendía family across many generations. The full-circle ending is like a mirror of the beginning, showing how time cycles and how people keep repeating the same patterns.
The endings of these books make the story feel complete with a full circle.
Leave the story on a suspenseful note or with unanswered questions, enticing readers to continue to the next installment.
1. The first book in the dystopian series, The Maze Runner by James Dashner ends with a cliffhanger, leaving readers eager to continue the story. The fate of the characters and the mystery surrounding the maze intensify, leaving readers with unanswered questions.
2. The first book in The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard ends with a cliffhanger, introducing a twist that changes the course of the story. The political intrigue and the protagonist’s struggle for survival keep readers hooked and looking for the next book.
3. The fantasy novel Cruel Prince by Holly Black ends with a cliffhanger, as the main character faces a betrayal that shatters her world. The complex dynamics of the fairy realm and the protagonist’s quest for power leave readers hungry for more.
Cliffhangers maintain suspense and keep readers engrossed by introducing unresolved conflicts and unexpected events.
It is important to remember that you can mix and match these types to create your own style based on what you want to say and the genre you’re writing.
The Elements of Beginning, Middles and Endings
Here are the common elements found in each phase: the beginning, middle, and endings.
Common elements in beginnings include:
A compelling opening line or scene that grabs the reader’s attention and piques their curiosity. Beginnings are crucial for setting the tone for the entire story. If you want readers to keep reading, start with a strong hook. Use a thought-provoking question, an intriguing statement, or a captivating descript
Establishing the time, place, and atmosphere of the story to immerse readers in the world of the narrative. By using descriptive techniques that appeal to the senses, you can transport your audience to the heart of your story. Balance exposition and action to maintain momentum while providing necessary information.
Introduction of Characters
Introducing the main characters and providing initial insights into their personalities, motivations, and relationships. Interesting characters are the backbone of any story. Thoughtfully introduce them, gradually revealing their motivations, goals, and personalities. Craft well-rounded characters that readers can relate to or root for, ensuring an emotional connection right from the start.
The event or catalyst that disrupts the protagonist’s ordinary life and sets the major conflict or story in motion. It serves as the inciting incident, propelling the protagonist into a new and often unfamiliar world of challenges and conflicts.
Tone and Style
Setting the overall tone, mood, and writing style that will guide the reader’s experience throughout the story. It creates a certain feeling, sets the scene, and shapes the story.
Common elements in middles include:
The series of events, obstacles, and challenges that propel the story forward and escalate the central conflict.
The growth, transformation, or exploration of the main characters’ personalities, relationships, and motivations. Balance their internal and external arcs, allowing them to overcome obstacles and change in meaningful ways. Use conflicts to push your characters out of their comfort zones, resulting in interesting and dynamic character development
Secondary storylines that add depth, complexity, and variety to the narrative, often intersecting with the main plot.
Middles are the meat of your story, where conflict and tension drive the plot forward. Increasing the stakes and tension as the conflict intensifies, creating a sense of anticipation and suspense. Develop a strong central conflict and progressively raise the stakes through obstacles and challenges. Consider incorporating subplots to add depth and complexity, keeping readers engaged throughout.
Plot Twists and Reversals
Unexpected turns of events, revelations, or changes in direction keep readers engaged and surprised.
Pace and Momentum
One of the biggest challenges in the middle of a story is avoiding a sagging pace. To keep readers invested, employ techniques such as strategic reveals, unexpected twists, and escalating action. Maintain a sense of urgency and purpose, ensuring your story maintains its momentum.
Common elements in endings include:
The climax of a story represents the highest point of tension and conflict, where the outcome of the main conflict is decided. The protagonist must make difficult choices and face a major challenge.
It ignites a sense of urgency and intensity, capturing the reader’s attention and investment. Whether it is a dramatic showdown, a crucial decision, or a revelation that changes everything, the climax brings the story to its peak, resolving the central conflict and shaping the characters’ destinies. It is a defining moment that often leaves a lasting impact and sets the stage for the resolution and conclusion of the story.
The unfolding of events resolves the central conflict and provides closure to the storylines and character arcs. A satisfying ending ties up loose ends and provides closure to the central conflict. Ensure the resolution is logical and consistent with the story’s development, leaving readers with a sense of fulfillment. However, be mindful of leaving room for interpretation, allowing readers to engage with your story beyond its conclusion.
The aftermath of the climax, where loose ends are tied up, and the consequences of the story’s events are explored.
Evoking emotions in readers through the resolution of character arcs, the fulfillment of story goals, or the revelation of deeper truths.
Powerful endings leave a lasting emotional impact on readers. Consider the emotional journey you want to take your readers on and craft an end that aligns with that vision. Aim to evoke a range of emotions, whether it’s joy, sadness, surprise, or contemplation. Leave your readers with an experience they won’t easily forget.
Final Thoughts or Reflections
Providing a closing note that may reinforce themes, offer a moral or takeaway, or leave readers with a lingering impression. The final lines of your story should resonate with readers long after they’ve finished reading. Craft a powerful closing paragraph that leaves a lasting impression. Reinforce themes and messages that were explored throughout the story, ensuring they linger in the minds of your audience.
These elements help shape the structure, pacing, and impact of a story, ensuring a compelling and satisfying narrative experience for readers. Genre, style, and creativity will affect the elements and their arrangement.
These are just a few common problems that you may encounter when crafting beginnings, middles, and endings. Being conscious of these challenges can assist you in crafting more interesting narratives.
Examples of Beginnings, Middles, and Endings
Now that we know the types and elements, let’s look at how some prominent authors have used beginnings, middles and endings in their writing to help ours.
The Night Circus
The beginning of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern introduces two young magicians. They are bound by a mysterious competition, setting the stage for a captivating and enchanting story. Their magic shows and growing connections take center stage in the middle, building up the suspense. The story comes full circle in the end, showing the results of their choices and how their destinies were intertwined.
The Shadow of the Wind
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón starts off mysterious and gothic when this kid finds a book by an unknown writer. The middle delves into a labyrinthine plot involving love, betrayal, and a dangerous pursuit. At the end, all the secrets and connections come together, making the story feel complete.
The Golem and the Jinni
In the Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, we meet… surprise… a golem and a jinni in 19th-century New York City as their lives intertwined. The middle explores their struggles to fit into human society and the growing bond between them. The ending brings their stories to a poignant and bittersweet conclusion. Highlighting themes of identity and acceptance.
The House of the Spirits
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende starts off with a deep dive into the story of an important Chilean family. In the middle, we get to know the family members and their difficulties. And then the ending ties it all up, showing how the family never gave up when things got tough.
The Bear and the Nightingale
In The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden, the story kicks off with a girl named Vasilisa who’s got serious supernatural abilities. The middle explores her struggles against an encroaching evil and her determination to protect her family and village. The ending brings together themes of sacrifice, folklore, and the power of belief, ending in a climactic showdown.
10 Tips to Improve Beginnings, Middles, and Endings
There are lots of ways you can improve beginnings, middles and endings for your fictional novels. My advice…
1. Create a hook: Start with a captivating hook to grab the reader’s attention right off the bat and make them curious about what comes next.
2. Engaging Characters: Introduce the protagonist early on to establish a connection with the reader.
3. Use the Setting: Establish the story’s setting and atmosphere to immerse readers in the world of the narrative.
4. Create Conflict: Create a sense of conflict or tension from the beginning to engage readers and generate intrigue.
5. Paint a Picture: Use vivid and descriptive language to paint a picture and evoke the reader’s senses.
6. Start with Action: Begin with action or a pivotal moment to draw readers into the heart of the story.
7. Show, don’t tell: Use engaging dialogue, actions, and sensory details to bring the story to life.
8. Set the Stage: Provide enough information to orient readers without overwhelming them with excessive backstory.
9. Try a prologue: Want to make your readers wait in suspense? Try a prologue or flash-forward.
10. Use tone and style: Set the tone and style of the story early on to give readers an idea of what they’re in for.
1. Use hindrances: Throw some curveballs at the main character that make them work harder and push the plot forward.
2. Add depth: Spice up the narrative by developing subplots and giving secondary characters more depth.
3. Adjust the pace: Keep it interesting by mixing tension with reflection.
4. Show growth: Demonstrate the protagonist’s development through their actions, decisions, and relationships.
5. Try a twist: Keep your readers hooked by throwing in unexpected twists and turns.
6. Keep a balance: balance tension with emotional depth.
7. Choices and Consequences: Make sure the protagonist’s decisions shape the plot and reveal their personality.
8. Make a shift: Mix it up! Try different settings, alternative places, or change the perspective to keep things interesting.
9. Up the stakes: Make the story even more high-stakes and tense as it goes on, pushing the characters to the brink.
10. Foreshadow: Drop subtle hints about future events to create anticipation and a sense of mystery.
1. Provide closure: Provide a satisfying resolution to the major conflict and tie up loose ends to give readers a sense of closure.
2. Avoid predictability: Avoid abrupt or overly predictable endings by employing unexpected twists or revelations.
3. Have consequences: Show the aftermath of the story’s events, allowing readers to see the impact on the characters and the world.
4. Character growth: Evoke emotion by highlighting the characters’ growth, fulfill their arcs, or the deeper themes of the story.
5. Room for interpretation: Consider an ambiguous ending that leaves room for interpretation and sparks discussion
6. Reflect back: Reflect on the protagonist’s journey and their personal growth, offering a moment of introspection or self-realization.
7. Echo the theme: Echo elements or themes from the beginning to create a sense of symmetry and completion.
8. Leave an impression: Leave readers with a final image, line, or thought that lingers in their minds and leaves a lasting impression.
9. Aligned endings: Make sure the end of the story matches the emotional journey and tone of the whole thing.
10. Leave them thinking: leave readers with something to ponder.
Last Words on Beginnings, Middles and Ending
To be a skilled storyteller, you need to know how to start strong, keep it interesting, and end well. Create narratives that resonate with readers long after they’ve turned the last page.
Feature image by Jess Bailey from Pixabay.